A quality food processor can significantly reduce the time and effort required to prepare a meal, leaving you less stressed and with more time to enjoy yourself. The steps to plan, prepare and put a meal on the table often involve a lot of work.
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Many quality dishes require a combination of chopping, slicing, grating, shredding, or mincing in the cooking process. Though these tasks can be done by hand with the knives and tools in your kitchen drawer, a processor is a handy tool that’s capable of doing most of the work for you.
Do I need a processor?
Yes, you do. :) If you cook regularly, this versatile tool is a necessary addition to your kitchen appliances. Depending on the complexity of the model, they can chop, slice, shred, grind, mix, and puree everything from delicate tomatoes to dense root vegetables.
They are versatile kitchen appliances that make easy work of preparing a variety of dishes. They can also be used to make juices, beat cake batter, blend bread dough, and grind raw meat or nuts. Unlike blenders, processors rarely require the addition of liquid to aid in the mixing process, which can be important in the preparation of certain recipes.
Granted, most of the tasks performed by processor blades can also be done by hand (chop, grate, slice, knead); however, the processor performs these tasks more efficiently and saves you time and energy to devote to other kitchen work.
If you have the money to buy one and the space to store one, then there really aren’t any drawbacks to investing in a quality model. You may be able to get by with just a blender, especially if you only process small quantities and space and cost are an issue. If you’re a serious chef or home cook that likes to experiment with different recipes and techniques, you should consider owning a quality version by a premium brand.
What is the difference between a food processor and a blender?
Though the two appliances serve similar roles, there are distinct differences in their functions that make each suited to specific tasks. A blender serves primarily to blend, or mix, various soft solids and liquids.
They are commonly used to make smoothies, salad dressings, or soups (hot and cold). On the other hand, processors are capable of mixing both soft and solid ingredients in a variety of cuts and consistencies (chop, shred, grate, etc.) using different blade attachments. Though there are areas of overlap between the two appliances, there are some tasks that one is better at performing than the other.
Ultimately, both are essential in a well-equipped kitchen. The difference between the two appliances can be seen in the shape and design of their respective blades and containers.
Blenders are narrow and deep with a small and fast fixed blade, making them more suitable for pureeing softer ingredients and liquids. Depending on the strength of the blade and power of the unit, some blenders are capable of crushing ice to include in frozen drinks and smoothies.
They have wider bowls and sharper blades designed for chopping tougher products, and their various disc attachments allow for slicing and shredding capabilities. In summary, use a blender for milkshakes and smoothies. Use a food processor for just about everything else!
What size Model do I need?
The size of the unit you choose should depend on the complexity of your everyday cooking needs. There are essentially three sizes to choose from: full, compact, and mini. The bowls on full-sized units generally have a volume between 9 and 13 cups.
Compact units typically have bowls capable of handling 5 to 7 cups of ingredients. Miniature models can store 2 to 5 cups.
You’ll find full-sized, commercial-grade processors in professional restaurant kitchens where they are used for a variety of prep tasks. Serious home cooks may also consider full-sized units, especially those who regularly prepare meals for their large families or get-togethers.
Compact models are appropriate for casual home cooks and those who may not have the counter or storage space all the appliances he or she wants! Mini models are perfect for small apartment kitchens and for individuals who rarely cook. Ultimately, if you invest in the largest size available with the most powerful motor you will yield the best all-around results.
What do I have personally? Well, I have a full-sized unit but on the smaller side. We have a fairly small kitchen and counter space is a premium! It isn’t as bad as when I was in an apartment (my single days!) but we don’t have room for a 14 cup unit.
My 9- cup unit does the job and it is rare that I ever wish I had the 14 cup model. We just don’t make that much food very often.
What is the pulse function used for?
Pulsing is an important technique – one of the primary tasks. Pulsing involves turning the motor on and off in short, quick bursts. This function gives the ingredients being processed time to fall down near the blade in between each ‘pulse’ as to avoid inconsistencies in texture.
In general, pulsing allows you to pay attention to the texture of your ingredients and prevent it from being over-processed in one, continuous blade rotation (like a blender). For instance, when making salsa you’re better off administering 4 – 5 one-second pulses to process the tomatoes to prevent from turning them into a liquid consistency.
What types of accessories do I need?
All sorts of accessories are available. The biggest advantage over blenders is their acceptance of a variety of attachments for handling different prep tasks. The standard components of all models are the motor/stand, shaft, and bowl/lid.
Both the standard blade and any extra attachments fit over top the shaft once the bottom bowl is fitted and locked into place. Attachment blades and discs are most often made of metal to retain their sharpness and durability, though plastic blades and attachments are also available.
The standard blade is the Sabatier, or S-shaped blade. The Sabatier blade rests at the bottom of the bowl and consists of two curved blades on either side of the shaft that form an ‘S’ shape.
Other versions feature the attachment blades are usually disc-shaped and rest at the top of the bowl over the shaft. The cook pushes food down the feed tube where it is shredded, sliced, or julienned by the disc before falling into the bowl below.
The different holes and grooves on these discs may process fine or coarse bits of ingredients depending on its intended use. If not already included with your model, the following attachments may be separately purchased to give your machine more versatility:
- Shredding disc – shreds/grates vegetables and fruits
- Slicing disc – slices fruits and vegetables in thin strips
- Julienne disc – creates long, thin match-like strips of vegetables and fruits
- Dough blade – slightly curved metal or plastic paddle for mixing bread and pizza dough
- French fry disc – creates thin chips for frying
- Citrus juicer – dome-shaped shaft attachment for juicing citrus fruits
- Egg whip – two open paddles that create air to whip fluffy eggs and cream
Keep in mind that attachments are usually only available for full-sized units.
Some compact models may include a few attachments that fit the bowl of that particular sized model, but very few mini models will include attachment blades.
What safety features are important?
They are relatively straightforward in terms of operation, but there are a few aspects to pay attention to in terms of safety features. The first thing is the safety lock that keeps the bowl and lid secured together to prevent them from opening or spilling their contents while processing.
Not all models feature safety locks, but those that do should feel solid and snug if made from quality materials. Another safety feature is a place to store the power cord within the base of the appliance to prevent it from being damaged or severed when not in use.
Most models include a plunger to help push the food down the feed tube towards the blade or disc attachment. Plungers are designed to force the food into the bowl without coming into contact with the blade or disc and are thus much safer to use than a kitchen utensil or your fingers.
What should I not process?
Though they are generally capable of processing harder and tougher ingredients than blenders, there are certain things that food processors aren’t good for. They include:
- Mashed potatoes – starch in potatoes yields gummy consistency
- Whipped cream – result is stiff and could turn to butter; best suited for mixer
- Egg whites/meringue – same as above: result is stiff
- Herbs – can become bruised and soggy; best done by hand
- Meat loaf – will over-process and result in a dense finished product
- Coffee – suited for mini processors only; larger bowls will create chunky grind that sticks to the side; coffee must be ground fine
- Ice – too hard and risks dulling the blade; best suited for blenders
- Soup – bowls often too small to prevent spillage; best suited for blenders
What is a food chute and what is it used for?
Some versions come with food chutes integrated into the lid that allows you to process ingredients in quantities beyond the capacity of the bowl. Models with this feature allow you to continuously push materials through the feed tube and create a homogenous mixture that exits the bowl into an external vessel. This feature allows you to shred cheese, puree fruit or vegetable juice, and mix soups in larger quantities than the volume of the bowl.
What do the best versions incorporate?
With processors, like any kitchen appliance, you typically get what you pay for. The best processors are usually the expensive, full-sized models with powerful motors and solid construction.
A few things to look for when buying include:
- Solid, heavy base that won’t move on the counter
- Sturdy bowls and strong blades that lock in place and remain secure
- Ease of assembly – some models don’t start unless every piece is aligned and/or the plunger is in the feed tube
- Wide feed tube – narrow tubes require more pre-chopping
- Quiet operation – mini models tend to be louder
- Warranty protection of appliance and motor and ease of service
- Easy to clean removable parts and base controls
Can I make bread dough in one? Yes, there are attachments that allow for the mixing and kneading of bread dough in some models. A dough blade is shaped like the regular S-shaped blade with slightly stubbier and less-pronounced arms usually made of plastic.
Some would argue that hand-kneading dough produces a better result, but the dough blade definitely takes away the hard work associated with manual kneading.
Since bread dough can become quite heavy and dense, the more solid models work best for the task.
Otherwise, the bowl and stand will end up shaking and cause the blade to work ineffectively.
What are some common recipes ? Food processors are the go-to appliance for a variety of recipes including hummus, salsa, and bread crumbs.
- To make hummus, simply combine chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and any additional seasonings and puree into a smooth consistency.
- Salsa must be made in stages in order to maintain the integrity and consistency of certain ingredients. Garlic and chilies can be fully pureed with some lime juice before adding onion/scallion and fresh cilantro and chopping in a few short pulses. Quartered tomatoes are then added and pulsed into a rough chop and you have the basics of a simple, fresh salsa.
- Breadcrumbs can be made with any combination of old, toasted bread you have lying around mixed with herbs and seasoning to taste.